SHRAPNEL, Henry, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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SHRAPNEL DESCRIBES HIS EXPLOSIVE SHELL

SHRAPNEL, Henry (1761-1842). Army officer and inventory of the Shrapnel shell.
Original pen and ink drawings of 6 and 3 pounder shells, annotated by Shrapnel and signed by him as Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Artillery, c.1804. 25.5 x 33.5 mm. (10 x 13 inches), undated but watermarked 1802.

Shrapnel, whose name was to become synonymous with his invention, had been commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1779, and served in Newfoundland. After his return to England in 1785 he began privately to develop his idea of an explosive shell which could be fired from existing ordnance but which was filled with small round pieces of shot to be dispersed lethally when the shell exploded, the timing determined by a fuse of variable length inserted through the base of the casing. He maintained an interest in his invention during his subsequent military career, during which he had been wounded at the siege of Dunkirk in 1793, and in 1799 proposed to the Board of Ordnance that it should be adopted by the military, approval being granted in 1803. It is from this period that the present document is dated. Shrapnel became the first assistant inspector of artillery at Woolwich on 10 February 1804, during which year the shell was used with some success at the capture of Surinam.

Each drawing is accompanied by annotations of the exact dimensions, which in the case of the 3 pounder show signs of having been later altered. The note to the first drawing, i.e. the 6 pounder, evidently applies to both:
'NB These shells are to be cast of the best No. 1 Iron, or extremely soft gun metal, so as not to be in the least degree brittle. The casting to be finished as quick as possible, that the metal may not be increased in heat beyond what is proper.' ...'

Shrapnel's note at the foot, written less formally, adds the instruction that 'The whole of these shells should be cast in green sand, as the moulds make the iron brittle - the raised edges 3,R & 4,R are only intended as marks, & should be raised very little indeed.'

Any autograph material by Shrapnel is very rare on the market, and the present document is a particularly rare survival relating to a military invention which could be said to have had a significant influence on the future direction of artillery.

£750 [No: 26656]
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